The Dutch contribution to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)
The Dutch government made an infantry company available at the end of 2001. The company was placed under the command of the Kabul Multinational Brigade (KMNB). It consisted of an infantry platoon, a reconnaissance platoon (a second infantry platoon from November 2002), an anti-tank platoon, an engineer platoon and a logistics platoon, as well as a mortar group and a company staff. A Commando Corps platoon tasked with carrying out reconnaissance missions was added to each rotation.
In successive order, the Dutch government made the following available for the ISAF mission:
- the ISAF III headquarters;
- an Apache attack helicopter detachment;
- a Provincial Reconstruction Team;
- an F-16/KDC-10 detachment;
- a Marine Corps battalion;
- a task force of over 1.200 service members;
- a regional ISAF headquarters.
The place of the Commando Corps platoon (the platoon had by then been added to the headquarters) within the KMNB was taken over by an airmobile reconnaissance platoon in February 2003. The infantry company was reinforced by a rapid reaction unit. The Dutch company formed part of a German battlegroup that, in addition to a German company, included an Austrian company. The company was deployed in districts 8 and 12 and the district of Bagrami. The KMNB’s headquarters were established in Camp Warehouse, which was located along the road from Kabul to Jalalabad, a city in eastern Afghanistan.
In 2002, tensions escalated, putting stability in Kabul at risk. These heightened tensions resulted in shooting incidents, minor bomb attacks and the firing of unguided missiles at Camp Warehouse or the US embassy. Dutch military personnel regularly had to take cover in the bunkers.
In response to the missile attacks, the Dutch company extended the range of its patrols, which now covered an area in the eastern part of police district 12 (referred to as the Eastern Extension) and the Chahar Asiab police district south of Kabul. The deployment of Dutch mortar-locating radars on 8 February 2003 (24 service members) enabled ISAF to rapidly identify the locations from which missiles were fired and send out patrols on the basis of that information.
Command of ISAF
On 1 November 2002, the Dutch government decided to take command of ISAF in partnership with Germany for a period of 6 months from February 2003. Elements of the German-Dutch High Readiness Forces Headquarters (HRF HQ) in Münster were deployed for this purpose. These elements were supported by a signal battalion and a staff support battalion. The Netherlands sent a total of 400 additional service members to Afghanistan. Germany and the Netherlands were therefore responsible for directing the operation’s military strategy and political dimension.
ISAF’s headquarters were located in the main building of the former Military Sports Club. The support units were accommodated on the sites that belonged to the club. A Dutch engineer unit of 80 service members was deployed for 6 months to increase and improve the bunker capacity both at headquarters and Camp Warehouse. From 23 February 2003, a fully mobile field surgical unit (MOGOS) that consisted of 42 Dutch service members was deployed at Kabul airport to provide medical care as and when required.
On 11 August 2003, General Norbert van Heyst handed over command to Lieutenant General Götz Gliemeroth, Commander of NATO’s Joint Command Central Europe in Heidelberg. Around 25 to 35 Dutch service members from NATO headquarters remained active as members of ISAF’s staff. It was not until 30 January 2004 that the Dutch government again contributed a unit to ISAF. This unit consisted of 6 AH-64D Apache attack helicopters and an air force detachment of 135 service members.
The helicopters and personnel were placed as an independent unit in the helicopter battalion led by Germany. The detachment served as a rapid reaction unit and was also there to convince those with hostile intentions of ISAF’s striking power. In the context of this deterrence part of its task, the unit carried out aerial reconnaissance missions and escort duties. The Apache helicopters were operationally deployable from 13 April 2004. One Apache was lost during a routine flight on 29 August 2004.
Provincial Reconstruction Team
On 28 June 2004, the Dutch government decided to contribute a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in the province of Baghlan. The PRTs monitored local and regional developments and supported the central government in its efforts to extend and maintain its authority. The PRTs also advised local leaders and facilitated cooperation between different international and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). In addition, in cooperation with local communities, the PRTs supported reconstruction projects that the NGOs were unable or unwilling to get involved in.
The deployment of a PRT in Baghlan was a matter of high priority to the Afghan authorities and the United Nations because of the province’s strategic position. The Dutch PRT (130 service members), which was based in the city of Puli Khumri, was operational on 1 October 2004. The PRT consisted of a command group, 3 military observation and liaison teams (MOLTs), an operations centre, a rapid reaction unit and a logistics organisation. It was gradually enlarged to 220 service members and handed over its tasks to a Hungarian PRT on 1 October 2007.
For the duration of the election period in October 2004, the Netherlands made a security detachment of 40 service members available to the German PRT in Kunduz. In addition, on 29 August 2004, the government decided to contribute 6 F-16s and a KDC-10 tanker aircraft to ISAF for the purpose of supporting the presidential election on 9 October. The detachment returned to the Netherlands in the middle of November.
It became clear, however, that ISAF needed combat aircraft on a permanent basis to protect PRTs and other ISAF units. In addition, ISAF needed aircraft on a temporary basis to support the parliamentary and local elections that were scheduled to take place in September 2005. The Dutch government made 3 combat aircraft and a reserve aircraft available on 25 February 2005. These aircraft arrived in Kabul airport on 24 March. From the middle of July 2005 they constituted an expeditionary air wing together with 4 Belgian aircraft.
On 3 June 2005, the Dutch government decided to further reinforce ISAF during the election period with a marine battalion (750 service members). Specialists units such as a field hospital and a CH47-D Chinook helicopter for medical evacuation were added to the battalion. The marines established their base camp at the airport of Mazar-e-Sharif. Because of the size of the area of operations, infantry companies were stationed in Fayzabad and Maymana. The battalion’s task was to ensure that irregularities did not occur prior to, during and after the elections.
Primary responsibility for security rested with the Afghan police and army. The 1st group of 100 service members left the Netherlands on 2 August. With the exception of the field hospital, the last group to leave Afghanistan arrived back in the Netherlands on 9 November. Staff members of the field hospital were deployed to Bagh in Pakistan because of an earthquake.
From 22 July to 20 August, the deployment of the marine battalion was supported by a Hercules C-130. A transport aircraft headed to Afghanistan 2 months later to contribute to tactical air transport within Afghanistan and assist in the return of the marines.
The ISAF mission in the southern part of Afghanistan formally started on 1 August 2006, when British, Canadian and Dutch NATO units assumed responsibility for the 3 southern provinces of Helmand, Kandahar and Uruzgan (Regional Command South, RC(S)). Until that time, operations in the provinces referred to had been carried out only in the context of Operation Enduring Freedom. The area of operations of ISAF’s RC(S) included the provinces of Zabul, Nimroz and Daykundi.
The Netherlands made over 1.200 service members available for the mission in Uruzgan. The number of personnel serving in Task Force Uruzgan (TFU) was gradually increased to 1.350. TFU’s task was to create a safe environment in which properly functioning public administration and reconstruction were possible. TFU was preceded by the Deployment Task Force (DTF). This task force, consisting of 850 service members responsible for accommodation, built the 2 Dutch camps at Tarin Kowt, the provincial capital, and Deh Rahwod, the district capital. A battalion task force, a PRT and an Australian Reconstruction Task Force were TFU’s most important elements.
The position of commander of ISAF troops in RC(S) was twice held by a Dutch general based in Kandahar. Major General Ton van Loon held the position from 1 November 2006 to 1 May 2007 and Major General Mart de Kruif held the position for 1 year from 1 November 2008. The number of military personnel within RC(S) increased from 11.000 in April 2007 to 23.000 in January 2009.
During this period, ISAF units in the 6 southern provinces consisted of personnel from, among other nations, Canada, Great Britain, the United States, Romania, Australia, Denmark and the Netherlands. The Netherlands supported RC(S) with an air task force that consisted of 6 Apache attack helicopters and 8 F-16s. TFU personnel returned to the Netherlands in August 2010. The Apache helicopter detachment returned in the middle of November 2010. The number of F-16s deployed was reduced to 4.
Updated: 1 November 2009